The Albumen Experiment 1

Making Albumen prints feels a lot like cooking. Seriously!  Take 12 eggs, separate the yolks. Add a dash of salt and acetic acid. Beat till stiff (which btw takes 45 mins of continuous beating by hand!) and leave it overnight in the fridge and wait for it to settle. Just that, by the end of this you have coating for photographic prints ready instead of a nice fluffy omelet.

The “recipe” can be found here .

It sounds simple enough, and it is … just it needs to be done carefully… following steps and waiting can get a bit boring but there actually is no alternative to that (and sadly I learnt it the hard way).

This is what was done

  1. Separate the whites from the yolk. All the white stringy stuff needs to be left out too.
  2. Add 15 grams of Sodium Chloride (table salt wont do as it is iodized), 15 ml of water and 2 ml of glacial (26%) acetic acid.
  3. Beat it till its really really stiff and there is no watery bits left i.e. the entire vessel is covered in the frothy egg white.
  4. Scoop out the egg froth and put into plastic bottles (because the vessel we used for beating was not transparent!)
  5. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight (atleast 12 hours) for the albumen to collect
  6. Scoop out the remaining froth and filter through cloth.
  7. The transparent, yellowish, free flowing liquid that you get after filtering is the albumen for the coating.

This albumen can be stored and used for months.

These are a few images of getting the albumen ready.

Beating the eggs, Filling it into a bottle and sealing with transparent kitchen film, the whole setup.

Albumen settling in the fridge, final volume of collected albumen, filtering through a fine cloth.

The paper used for making the prints should be thick and with a reasonable “tooth” (texture), so that it absorbs the albumen and doesn’t tear in the water. We used standard drawing book paper.

To coat the albumen, pour it out in a flat rectangular container, slightly bigger than the size of the paper to be coated. If there are any bubbles on the surface of the albumen, they need to be burst using a toothpick or a glass rod. Then keeping the coating side of the paper down (in contact with the albumen), float it on the albumen for 3 minutes. Do not press it down and make sure no albumen gets onto the other side, since that will produce a print though effect and degrade image quality. Then hang to dry along the longer side. The papers can be sensitised or double coated after they have completely dried. It is NOT a good idea to blow dry them at this stage as this might result in bubbles/uneaven coating.

For double coating the paper, place it in between 2 mount boards on a flat surface and hot iron it. Keep holding the iron on one place for long instead of moving it around. This process hardens the first coat and stops it from washing away while double coating.  Other ways of hardening can be found here.

It is after this point that the cooking stops and the chemistry begins. What is happening is that after sensitising with Silver Nitrate, the Sodium Chloride (salt) in the albumen coating reacts with the Silver Nitrate, and forms silver chloride, which is sensitive to UV light.

For sensitising the print we need to make a 15% silver nitrate solution i.e. 15 grams of silver nitrate in 100 ml of DISTILLED water. This solution needs to be made under red light/amber glass bottle and stored in amber glass bottle.

Silver nitrate needs to be handled very carefully. Always wear gloves while working, maintain distance as to not splash onto clothes and eyes. It can blind you and leave black/purple/brown stains which wont wash away.

The silver nitrate should be ideally coated using a brush with no metallic parts to avoid contamination, but that’s difficult to get so it can be done using a flat wide brushed which is washed well before and after coating, but a little bit of contamination will always be there. Drop a puddle of around 1 rupee coin size (appx. 2 ml if a syringe is being used) in the middle of the paper and spread it around in horizontal back and forth strokes. Drop a smaller puddle and spread it around vertically this time. Be gentle, otherwise the albumen coating will rub off (:P ). The size and quantity of silver nitrate solution to use depends entirely on the size of the paper being used. All that matters is that the coat should be even and uniform and no extra puddles of silver nitrate should remain. Coating can also be done with a glass rod or floatation. Wait for the silver nitrate to dry completely. Once its absorbed, the paper can be blow dried. The paper should be sensitised just before exposing, as the sensitivity drops radically if stored.

After the paper is dried, its finally ready for exposing! So choose a subject that needs to be printed. Albumen prints can only be made by contact printing. The bigger the negative, the bigger the albumen print you can make!  The exposures can be made by holding the negative/objects to print from and the sensitised albumen paper sandwiched in between 2 glass sheets. The exposure can be made in sunlight.

After exposing keep the print under running water for 4 mins and then let it sit in the water for 6 mins more to wash off the unreacted silver nitrate and fix ideally in a non hardening fixer like the TF-3. In a hardening fixer, like AGIFIX the print will bleach.

For the first exposure, I made a photogram to test if everything is working alright and here is what I got!

This was exposed for 7 mins in bright sunlight. You can see the print appearing in front of your eyes, so expose till you get your darkest black.


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3 Responses to The Albumen Experiment 1

  1. Anup Puthan says:

    Wonderfully documented experiences…All the best guys and looking forward to more prints via other alt process as well..

    • Shreyasi says:

      Hi Anup! Thanks a lot … do check out the new post about the albumen prints… considering you do salt prints maybe you can help me troubleshoot?

  2. zenomorph says:

    its more like the art of cooking with chemicals……almost like an old alchemy!!!

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